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Anim Cogn. 1998 Oct;1(2):77-82. doi: 10.1007/s100710050011. Epub 2014 Jan 5.

Sexual differences in memory in shiny cowbirds.

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Instituto de Biologí y Medicina Experimental-CONICET, Vuelta de Obligado 2490, 1428, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Avian brood parasites depend on other species, the hosts, to raise their offspring. During the breeding season, parasitic cowbirds (Molothrus sp.) search for potential host nests to which they return for laying a few days after first locating them. Parasitic cowbirds have a larger hippocampus/telencephalon volume than non-parasitic species; this volume is larger in the sex involved in nest searching (females) and it is also larger in the breeding than in the non-breeding season. In nature, female shiny cowbirds Molothrus bonariensis search for nests without the male's assistance. Here we test whether, in association with these neuroanatomical and behavioural differences, shiny cowbirds display sexual differences in a memory task in the laboratory. We used a task consisting of finding food whose location was indicated either by the appearance or the location of a covering disk. Females learnt to retrieve food faster than males when food was associated with appearance cues, but we found no sexual differences when food was associated with a specific location. Our results are consistent with the view that parasitism and its neuroanatomical correlates affect performance in memory tasks, but the effects we found were not in the expected direction, emphasising that the nature of avian hippocampal function and its sexual differences are not yet understood.


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